Lake Tekapo, one of New Zealand's most famous lakes, could be changing its name

It turns out we've been spelling one of the most famous lakes in New Zealand wrong.

Lake Tekapo has been attracting tourists and locals to its glacial blue waters ever since it was discovered.

However, Mackenzie District Deputy Mayor says the lake's name is meaningless in its current form, and the local council generally supports a change.

"The name Takapō tells a story, whereas Tekapo is meaningless in Māori," James Leslie told Stuff.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu representative David Higgins says his tribe, whose traditional land encompasses the lake, places huge importance in place names and having them correctly written and pronounced. 

"Our names come from our ancestors. They have been passed down through generations. They connect us to the landscape. They remind us of our history and reaffirm our identity," Higgins told Stuff.

"Those are the names that my - well, our, because it's all of our country - ancestors gave these places. For us it's about our home and we like to get our names right when we talk about our homes, don't we?"

So where have we gone wrong? It's not clear exactly when the spelling of Tekapo, rather than Takapō, became widely used in the Mckenzie District, but type-setters and computers could be partly to blame for the word losing the macron above its o. 

The inability or cost of adding macrons to typeset and computer code or keyboards meant that up until recent history, most Māori words that should have them, did not.

Now you may ask, what's the big deal? Surely a small, straight line over a letter can't make that much difference to a word?

In fact, it does. A macron above a vowel in the Māori language denotes a longer vowel sound and, in a language that was completely oral before colonisation, that longer sound can completely change a word's meaning.

In June, the New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) made 824 Māori place names official as part of an effort to "keep stories alive".

Destinations such as Taupō, Whakatāne, Whangārei, and Lake Wānaka were amongst 307 with macrons made official. However, Lake Tekapo was not amongst them, this time.

Making an official change to the lake's name requires a proposal, along with public consultation, though such a change is generally supported by council and local businesses are already embracing the more enlightened version, according to Leslie.

That version involves the interpretation of Takapō as meaning "to leave in haste at night". Its legend tells the tale of two chiefs, leaving the lake under cover of darkness, who were caught out by the rising sun and became the two pillars that mark the entrance to the Lindis Pass.